Sometimes it’s really hard being a man

Louis Shankar; Week Six

Cambridge chromosomes column Louis Shankar Man

I am a self-defining man.

I was born with a Y chromosome – not that I’ve ever seen it, but I can logically assume it’s there based on the more obvious, physical manifestations. I identify as male and always have; whether I like it or not, this undoubtedly puts me in a position of relative privilege.

I don’t really want privilege, although I realise it takes quite a lot of it in order to make that statement. From an ideological standpoint, I hope it hasn’t helped me much: I’m one of those romantics who likes to think they got to where they are by themselves. But then comes the great ‘nature or nurture’ debate: am I just a product of my privilege?

The thing often overlooked about being in a position of perceived privilege is that it manifests in two ways: firstly, privilege itself, those extra brownie points for doing nothing other than being you. Secondly, and more importantly for this column, there’s the pressure to conform to ambient standards set by society: the tax you have pay for that privilege.

There are lots of different sorts of privilege

When it comes to gender, we are still too prescriptive, for men as well as women, and weighed down by archaic stereotypes. There is such a limited spectrum of accepted ‘manliness’: the pinnacle is still the caveman hunter, strong and fast and, most importantly, in charge.

You can be the extroverted, confident, ‘manly’ type or just be introverted, weird and dismissed as a nerd. Or, if you choose to be vaguely ‘effeminate’, you’re suddenly accused of homosexuality – and, in a damning inditement of attitudes to sexuality, the tone often is accusatory, as if it’s bad or wrong.

Self-deprecating humour is the best defence mechanism; jokes are easy and often made. And you laugh along because normalised prejudice is always funny, right? It’s simpler to smile and blink away the tears than tell the truth and be ridiculed.

A picture of some chromosomes I found on the internet


This is epitomised in language that’s casually used: we are told to “grow a pair” (of ridiculously sensitive gonads?!) or “man up”, which is a hideously dangerous expression.

We don’t talk about problems and are mocked for a hint of sensitivity. Men bottle up their emotions until it reaches a critical point and shatters everywhere. We superficially toughen up and feign interest in certain topics; supposedly ‘manly’ CEOs and sportsmen everywhere cower in the closet behind a fake facade.

Why should anyone care if I want to wear a pair of (offensively) pink trousers because I like the colour? What’s wrong with wanting to order the occasional Cosmopolitan at a bar instead of a pint of ale? Does it matter if I’d rather spend a Saturday at a gallery looking at overpriced paintings rather than watching overpriced people kick a ball about?

The trousers in question


I’m tired of having to defend my manhood just because I don’t (metaphorically) wear my penis on my sleeve. If, to be accepted by ‘society’, I have to act in a way I don’t want to act in order to receive privilege I don’t want to receive, then fuck society and its normativity.

Unless you are the archetypal ‘manly’ man, you’re left with a choice: ‘man up’, conform and sacrifice your individuality; or be yourself and be ostracised, questioned and judged.

Or just write a whiny column for the Tab.